Mike Coombs feels like he is in the crosshairs of Seattle lawmakers, who this year implemented a special tax on the guns and ammo his Fourth Avenue store has sold for more than 40 years.
On January 1 Seattle began imposing a $25 tax on every gun and a 5-cent tax on every round sold within city limits. The stated objective was to raise up to $500,000 per year to fund programs to prevent gun violence. But Coombs claims the real effect is to kill his business, and a gun rights legal foundation is battling the city for figures it believes will show the law was never about taking in revenue.
“What they’re trying to do is get gun stores out of the city,” said Coombs, 48, whose Outdoor Emporium store operates in the shadow of Safeco Field and boasts of having “the largest selection of outdoor related products at affordable everyday warehouse pricing.”
Longtime customers have told Coombs they simply go outside the city now to buy firearms and ammunition rather than pay the tax, which he blames for the layoffs of two workers so far this year. Precise Shooter, a smaller gun shop in Seattle, moved 16 miles outside of the city to Lynnwood on the day the tax took effect.
“We feel that, basically, a crackpot politician was trying to buttress his 'progressive' credentials and we got run over,” owner Sergey Solyanik told MyNorthwest.com.
Solyanik was referring to Seattle City Council President Tim Burgess, who drafted the law providing for the so-called “gun violence tax.” The City Budget Office estimated the gun violence tax would collect between $300,000 to $500,000 a year, which Burgess said would fund gun violence prevention programs and medical research.
Coombs said his company stands ready to promote gun safety and responsible ownership, and suggested revenues from the gun and ammo tax could go toward gun safes and lockboxes, for instance. But he said the city has shown little interest in collaborating with pro-Second Amendment groups and businesses on safety initiatives.
Burgess and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, who also supported the tax, declined to comment when contacted by FoxNews.com. Pro gun control groups say the tax is justified.
"[Seattle] has every right to tax products that are causing public safety/public health issues in its jurisdiction," said Ladd Everitt, spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. "The medical and legal costs associated with gun violence are astronomical and I don’t see any foul play in asking gun buyers to help bear some of these costs alongside taxpayers who choose not to own guns."
Solyanik said his small business previously generated about $50,000 per year in city sales tax. With Precise Shooter's move out of the city, Seattle will lose those funds and collect nothing from the new tax, he said.
The Second Amendment Foundation and the National Shooting Sports Foundation sued the city, claiming the tax violates state law, which gives the Washington State Legislature sole power to regulate registration, licensing, possession, purchase, sale, acquisition, transfer, discharge and transportation of firearms. A Superior Court judge sided with the city, and the case has now been appealed to the intermediate court.
“Seattle is arguing that this is a tax, not a regulation,” Second Amendment Foundation Executive Vice President Alan Gottlieb said. “But it’s a specific tax on a specific item, which falls back to being gun control because it is only a tax on guns.”
The plaintiffs have filed Freedom of Information Act requests to determine how much revenue has been brought in by the tax, and the city has so far declined to turn over the information. The plaintiffs also believe the real numbers would show the tax has brought in far less than was projected, which would undermine the city’s claim that it was instituted to generate revenue for gun violence programs.
Cook County, Ill., implemented a similar tax on guns April 1, 2013. Beginning next month, the county, which includes Chicago, will impose a tax on ammunition as well.
Second Amendment backers believe overturning Seattle’s tax is key to stopping more cities from implementing gun and ammunition taxes they say are simply a pretext for driving out gun shops.
“We do not intend to sit idly by and allow taxes against the Second Amendment,” Lawrence Keane, senior vice president and general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, told Fox News. “We are aware that gun control advocates view this as a new weapon in their effort to trample upon the Second Amendment and try to drive law-abiding firearm retailers out of business.”